A delightful spin on the historical account of Mary, Queen of Scots and her fool.
As I was perusing the book stacks last early Saturday morning, I discovered a novel I’d never heard of before: Queen’s Own Fool. Excited by the cover and description, I added it to my stack of library books and hurried home to begin reading.
If you haven’t already finished this book, I highly recommend doing so, before reading this post. There will definitely be spoilers. Consider yourself warned 😉
What are my thoughts on the book? Charming. Delightful. Refreshing.
The story opens with our protagonist Nicola performing in a downpour with other members of Troupe Brufort. Unlike any sane individual, her uncle Armand insists that they stand in the cold rain and continue to act despite being the only people on the streets. Cue the inciting incident of a carriage pulling up. A man named Jacques steps out and speaks with Nicola’s uncle. To everyone’s shock, he invites them to perform before the king.
The Intelligent Jardinière
Several things become apparent at once about our heroine in this opening scene. She’s quick witted, willful, stubborn, honest, and comedic. Her sharp tongue gives her a barrage of beatings from her uncle, who orders her, whenever possible, to keep her mouth shut. But it is also her quick wit that saves their troupe from embarrassment as she is the only one able to get a real laugh from the noble audience. A fact that maddens her uncle to no end. And it is also her quick wit that entices Queen Mary to employ Nicola in her services.
I got to say, literary fools and jesters have a special place in my heart. I love the character who can step outside the games and call people out for their stupidity, pride, or ignorance. Their difficult task requires them to have courage and be bold in the face of lies and deceit. It’s their job to hold nothing back and I love how their comments make me think.
Nicola, the queen’s Jardinière, is no different. A few of her bold comebacks to the noble lords and ladies had me laughing out loud. (Seriously, my roommates probably thought I was crazy).
“‘Pardon me, my lord,’ I apologized. ‘Everything you say is very serious, so I am certain you always have a care before you say anything at all. But as I am just a poor fool, nothing I say matters in the least, so I might as well just say the very first thing that comes into my head'” (67). There were so many moments I was delightfully appalled by her tongue in cheek quips. Her words had the ability to cut through the masks of those around her and truly see into their souls.
For example, upon having her first real conversation with Queen Mary, her majesty offers the young girl a common, well known riddle about someone that walks on four legs, then two, then three. The normal answer is man, but Nicola offers a splendid rebuttal, “You are a dog who dances badly before a king” (36). Nicola’s bold response and explanation baffles and humors Queen Mary proving the woman to be honest and open minded.
A poor example comes from Queen Mary’s second husband, Lord Darnley. Upon meeting the man, her witty responses disarms and infuriates him. When he’s near to lashing out, she smooths things over, turning him into a man sweet as honey. The distinct opposite responses sets off alarm bells in Nicola’s mind, especially when the noble then proceeds to flirt with her. This first poor encounter, foreshadows many ills to come.
Queen’s Own Fool: Final Thoughts
Unlike many of the YA novels I’ve read, this book does NOT revolve around a central female character debating between the two men she should spend her forever with. Hallelujah.
Instead, Queen’s Own Fool delves into deep topics of corruption, war, abuse, power, loyalty, and so many more interesting subjects. Though the ending follows along events in history(at least where Queen Mary is concerned with her beheading) I never found myself becoming depressed or overly saddened by the circumstances.
I think this had to do with the strong attitude of Nicola. The girl struggled and went through a lot, but never so deep that she fell into a catatonic state (looking at you Katniss). I smiled and laughed more while reading this book than I have in a while. The queen’s end is disappointing, but accurate. You can’t change the past, no matter how much you might want to. But bonus: I actually did a little bit of historical research on the subject since the characters intrigued me so much!
If you get the chance to pick up this book, I highly recommend it. And if you have read it, what were some of your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!
Thanks for reading 🙂